Beer price and politics feature in student guide: A new university guide seeks to cover more than academic reputation. Donald MacLeod reports

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The Independent Online
A university's academic reputation is all very well, but students making a choice between 173 institutions of higher learning needs hard facts. What, for instance, is the price of a pint there?

The first student guide to employ the University Booze Index was published yesterday, revealing a range from 133 at Greenwich University (formerly Thames Polytechnic) to 91 at Lancaster University.

It also rates institutions by political compexion and sporting prowess, revealing that Luton College of Higher Education is the most left-wing in the country, and that the most virulently right- wing are Bournemouth University (formerly Bournemouth Polytechnic) and the private University of Buckingham. Johnny Rich, editor of Push, the Polytechnic and University Handbook, explained that the index was based on a formula in which 100 was the pounds 1-a- pint benchmark. It was weighted for the proportion of students who lived in at each institution.

Mr Rich said: 'It is all very well to decide on a university on its academic courses but what matters on a day-to-day basis is where to go in the evenings, whether you have a roof over your head and where you go to eat.' Or, indeed, drink.

The UBI was a good indicator of how the cost of groceries and entertainment varied from place to place, he said.

Some drugs, including cannabis and ecstacy, get a mention in the guide, but not the same statistical analysis.

The other key factor is accommodation, which is also listed.

More controversial are the 'flunk rates' for each university. The London School of Economics has already challenged its 23.2 per cent flunk rate - the highest in the country. However, Mr Rich insists his ratings are based on figures supplied by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, and is sticking by them. (The committee vouches for its figures, but not any use made of them.) The former polytechnics do not feature in the flunk ratings.

Drop-out rates are in any case notoriously difficult to pin down and the subject of fairly vicious academic debate. Whether a low flunk rating means a university has good teaching, good students or is just a soft touch is open to question.

The 10 universities with the lowest flunk rates are Cambridge 3 per cent, Aberdeen 5, Oxford 5.5, Durham 7.2, Lancaster 8.4, Bristol 8.9, Royal Holloway 9, Nottingham 9.1, York 9.3, Leicester 9.7.

The 10 highest are LSE (disputed), Heriot-Watt, Dundee, City, Glasgow, King's College, London, Queen Mary and Westfield College, London, Newcastle, Brunel and Salford. The United Kingdom's most left-wing institutions are, according to the guide's analysis of elected National Union of Students delegates: Brighton (formerly Brighton Polytechnic), Glamorgan (formerly Wales Polytechnic), Greenwich (formerly Thames Polytechnic), Kent, Luton College of Higher Education - which rates a special star for 'most extreme' - Middlesex (formerly Middlesex Polytechnic), Newcastle, North London (formerly PNL), Northumbria, Salford, Sheffield Hallam University (formerly Sheffield Polytechnic), School of Oriental and African Studies, London, Swansea. The scoring system is slightly obscure but, according to Mr Rich, being a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party scores maximum left-wing points.

When it comes to being right- wing, after Bournemouth and Buckingham come Bath, Dundee, Exeter, King's College, London, Nottingham and Wye College, London.